German court sentences ex-Yugoslav spies to life for 1983 murder of dissident

Josip PerkovićA German court has given life sentences to two senior intelligence officers in Cold-War-era Yugoslavia, who masterminded the murder of a Croat dissident in 1983. Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustać, both former senior officials in the Yugoslav State Security Service, known as UDBA, were extradited to Germany from Croatia in 2014. They were tried in a German court in the Bavarian capital Munich for organizing the assassination of Stjepan Đureković on July 28, 1983. Đureković’s killing was carried out by UDBA operatives in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria as part of an UDBA operation codenamed DUNAV. Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company until 1982, when he suddenly defected to West Germany. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. It was the reason why he was killed by the government of Yugoslavia.

The court proceedings in Munich included dramatic testimony by another former UDBA operative, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia.

On Wednesday, the court found both former UDBA officials guilty of complicity in the assassination of Đureković and convicted them for life. German media reported that the convicted men’s defense team plans to appeal the ruling by advancing the case to Germany’s Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe, Baden-Württemberg, which is Germany’s highest ordinary-jurisdiction court. Perković and Mustać declined requests to make comments to the press at the end of the trial. It is believed that at least 22 Croat nationalists were murdered in West Germany by the Yugoslavian intelligence services during the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 04 August 2016 | Permalink

Ex-Yugoslav spy testifies in German trial about 1983 murder of dissident

Josip Perkovic Zdravko MustacA former officer in the Cold-War-era Yugoslav intelligence service has begun testifying at a trial concerning the 1983 murder in Germany of a Yugoslav dissident by assassins sent by authorities in Belgrade. Stjepan Đureković, who was of Croatian nationality, defected from Yugoslavia to Germany in 1982, while he was director of Yugoslavia’s state-owned INA oil company. Upon his arrival in Germany, he was granted political asylum and began associating with Croatian nationalist émigré groups that were active in the country. He was killed on July 28, 1983, in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria. His killing was part of an operation codenamed DUNAV, which was conducted by the Yugoslav State Security Service, known by its Serbo-Croatian acronym, UDBA.

In 2009, following testimonies by several former UDBA agents, who were arrested in connection with the crime, the Office of the German Federal Prosecutor issued a European Arrest Warrant for Josip Perković, a former senior official in the UDBA. He is accused of having played a central role in organizing Đureković’s assassination. In 2014, Croatia, where Perković has been living since the demise of Yugoslavia, agreed to extradite Perković to Germany. The agreement materialized after heavy pressure was exercised on Croatia by the European Commission, after the country’s admission into the European Union.

Perković is now co-defendant in the trial taking place in Munich, along with another former UDBA intelligence official, Zdravko Mustać (see photo). Tuesday’s proceedings included testimony by another former UDBA man, Vinko Sindicić, who named both Perković and Mustać as direct accomplices in Đureković’s murder. Sindicić told the court that Perković was acting on orders to kill the German-based dissident, which came directly from the office of UDBA Director Zdravko Mustać. He added that Perković helped organize the logistics of Đureković’s assassination, including the location in Munich where the killing actually took place. Sindicić told the court that a female UDBA operative living in Munich was also involved in organizing the operation, and that the weapons used to kill Đureković had been secretly transported to Germany through Jadroagent, an international shipping and freight company based in Yugoslavia. During his testimony, which lasted for several hours, Sindicić claimed that the two men who carried out Đureković’s murder were UDBA assassins Branko Bijelić and Luka Sekula. The former died in 2004, but the latter still lives in Sweden and has yet to be extradited to Germany in connection with the murder trial.

It is worth noting that Sindicić spent a decade behind bars for his role in a failed attempt to kill another Yugoslav dissident émigré, Nikola Stedul, whom the UDBA tried to kill in the United Kingdom in 1988. Further charges against him were dropped in 2000, in a trial where he stood accused of complicity in the murder of yet another exiled Yugoslav dissident, Bruno Busić, who was killed in Paris in 1978. Both Perković and Mustać deny any involvement in Đureković’s assassination.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 06 July 2016 | Permalink

Late Taliban leader’s regular trips to Iran helped US spies track him down

Mullah Akhtar Mohammad MansourFrequent trips to Iran caused the demise of the late leader of the Afghan Taliban, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, who was killed in a secret American operation on May 21. The death of Mansour, who had led the Afghan Taliban since July 2015, when he succeeded Mullah Mohammad Omar, was announced by the Taliban on May 26. Early reports stated that Mansour was killed while traveling to the Pakistani city of Quetta from Iran. He is believed to have been visiting family or seeking medical treatment in Iran, which he appears to have entered using a forged passport.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the United States found out in February that Mansour made regular trips to Iran, as well as the precise route that the Taliban leader took to enter the country. American intelligence agencies also received “details about the devices [Mansour] used for communications” while in Iran. They then intercepted communications from Iran that matched Mansour’s electronic signature and followed these signals across the border into Pakistan. The Taliban leader entered Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Saturday, May 21. Once in Pakistan, Mansour entered a Toyota Corolla, believed to be a taxi, and made his way through the N-40 National Highway, heading to Quetta.

The Journal report states that the Taliban were aware that Baluchistan’s airspace is outside the Central Intelligence Agency drones’ operational area, and thus “felt more comfortable there”. Indeed, the paper claims that no CIA drones were actively targeting Mansour at the time. However, US President Barack Obama had given ordered the Joint Special Operations Command to have the Taliban leader killed. Reaper drones were deployed to launch two Hellfire missiles at Mansour’s car, which was totaled, killing the Taliban commander and his driver. According to the Journal, the White House had decided to ambush Mansour before he entered the city of Quetta, in order to prevent civilian casualties. After firing at it, the American drones hovered over the remains of Mansour’s vehicle to ensure that there were no survivors, before exiting Pakistani airspace.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 30 May 2016 | Permalink

Chile will ask US to extradite three men wanted in killing of UN diplomat

Carmelo SoriaThe Supreme Court of Chile will request that the United States extradites three individuals, including an American former professional assassin, who are implicated in the kidnapping, torture and murder of a United Nations diplomat. Carmelo Soria was a Spanish diplomat with dual Chilean nationality, who in the early 1970s was employed in the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean. In 1971, when the leftist Popular Unity party won Chile’s elections and became the nation’s governing coalition, Soria became an advisor to the country’s Marxist President, Salvador Allende. After the 1973 violent military coup, which killed Allende and overthrew his government, Soria used his diplomatic status to extend political asylum to a number of pro-Allende activists who were being hunted down by the new rightwing government of General August Pinochet.

Soria’s activities made him a target of the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), Chile’s domestic security service, which was a leading implementer of Operation CONDOR, a widespread anti-communist program that began in 1968 with the participation of most Latin American governments. CONDOR, which ended in 1989, included psychological operations, kidnappings and assassinations that targeted leftwing organizations and activists. On July 14, 1976, Soria, who had by then resumed his previous UN post, was kidnapped by agents of the DINA. He was tortured and murdered under detention. His body was found on July 16 inside a car that had been dumped in a river in Santiago de Chile. The Pinochet government refused to investigate the incident, saying that Soria had been driving under the influence of alcohol.

Last Tuesday, however, after an investigation that dates back to 1991, the Supreme Court of Chile said that an extradition request will be sent to the United States for three individuals who were allegedly directly implicated in the murder of Soria. They are: Michael Townley, a US citizen; Armando Fernandez Larios, of Chile; and Cuban Virgilio Pablo Paz Romero, all of whom were agents of DINA at the time of Soria’s murder. Townley is a former professional assassin who was hired by DINA for a series of murders. In 1978, a US court convicted him for his participation in the assassination of Orlando Letelier, former Chilean ambassador to the US, who was killed in 1976, when his car exploded in Washington, DC. Since his release from prison, Townley has been living in the US under the Witness Protection Program.

Larios, a Chilean national, was also convicted of being “an accessory after the fact” in the Letelier assassination and is also living in the US, having struck a plea bargain with Washington. The third individual, Paz Romero, was sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1991, after admitting that he personally detonated the remote-controlled car bomb that killed Leteler. He was paroled after serving half of his sentence and was ordered to be deported to his home country of Cuba. However, due to the absence of a bilateral deportation agreement between Washington and Havana, Romero remained in the indefinite custody of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service. In 2001, the US Supreme Court ruled that indefinite detentions were unconstitutional, so Romero was released and has been living freely in the US since that time.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 23 May 2016 | Permalink | News tip: R.W.

Jail for man involved in planned assassination of senior North Korean defector

Hwang Jang-yopAn appeals court in Seoul has upheld the conviction of a South Korean member of a spy cell that planned to assassinate the most senior North Korean defector to the South. The man, identified in media reports only by his last name, Park, is a South Korean citizen who allegedly helped a North Korean spy cell “based in China” plan the assassination of Hwang Jang-yop. In 1997, Hwang caused a sensation on both sides of the border when he defected to the South. A former secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Hwang was Pyongyang’s primary theorist and the ideological architect of juche, the philosophy of self-reliance, which is North Korea’s officially sanctioned state dogma. He was also believed to have ideologically mentored North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il, the father of the country’s current Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. Until his death from heart failure in April 2010, Hwang, had been living in the South with around-the-clock security protection.

In October 2010, a few months before Hwang’s death, South Korean authorities revealed that two self-confessed North Korean spies, Tong Myong Kwan and Kim Myung Ho, had allegedly admitted to posing as defectors. Seoul said that Tong and Kim, who were both 36 at the time, were on an assassination mission assigned to them by the intelligence unit of the North Korean Ministry of Defense. The two reportedly stated under interrogation that they were selected for the mission in 2004 and were trained for six years in spy trade craft, as well as techniques of assimilating in life in South Korea, which apparently included “watching South Korean soap operas to gain a better understanding of South Korean society”.

At the time of Tong and Kim’s arrest, South Korean authorities had stated that the two alleged North Korean spies had been assisted by at least two South Korean citizens. One has never been named. The other, Park, was indicted last year of providing logistical support to foreign spies who were plotting to kill Hwang, in return for ₩25 million ($21,000). His legal team appealed the sentence, saying he had been framed by the North Koreans. But on Tuesday, the Seoul High Court rejected the Park’s appeal and upheld his original 3-year jail sentence.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 18 May 2016 | Permalink

Revealed: Decorated Nazi commander became Mossad assasin

Otto SkorzenyA notorious lieutenant colonel in the Waffen SS, who served in Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit, worked as a hitman for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad after World War II, it has been revealed. Austrian-born Otto Skorzeny became known as the most ruthless special-forces commander in the Third Reich. Having joined the Austrian branch of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party at 19, at age 23 Skorzeny began serving in the Waffen SS, Nazi Germany’s conscript army that consisted largely of foreign-born fighters. In 1943, Hitler himself decorated Skorzeny with the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, in recognition of his leadership in Operation EICHE, the rescue by German commandos of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, who had been imprisoned at a ski resort in the Apennine Mountains following a coup against his government.

Skorzeny survived the war and ended up living in Spain under the protection of the country’s far-right dictator, Francisco Franco. The Mossad, Israel’s covert-action agency, which had made it a priority to arrest or kill senior Nazis who had survived the war, intended to kill Skorzeny. However, two veteran Israeli intelligence observers, Dan Raviv and Yossi Melman, revealed on Sunday that, instead of killing Skorzeny, the Mossad decided to recruit him. Based on “interviews with former Mossad officers and with Israelis who have access to the Mossad’s archived secrets”, Raviv and Melman allege that Isser Harel, who directed the Mossad from 1952 to 1963, decided that the former Waffen SS commander would be a useful asset against other Nazis operating in Europe and the Middle East. Specifically, Harel planned to use Skorzeny as a trap to lure a number of Nazi scientists who were secretly working for Egypt’s missile program.

According to Raviv and Melman, a Mossad team was sent to Spain to meet Skorzeny. After a tense incident that involved Skorzeny pointing a loaded weapon at two Mossad operatives, the former Nazi soldier agreed to cooperate with Israel in return for assurances that his name would be removed from the Mossad’s assassination list. Raviv and Melman claim that one of Skorzeny’s most high-profile operations as an agent of the Mossad culminated in the assassination of Heinz Krug in Munich in 1962. Krug was a German rocket scientist who was working for the Egyptian government under the tutelage of Dr Wolfgang Pilz, another rocketry expert who had put together a top-secret missile program for Cairo. Krug was targeted for assassination by Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s future prime minister, who was then commander of the Mossad’s clandestine operations service.

Krug, who was worried for his life after receiving threatening messages from individuals he believed were connected with the Mossad, reached out to Skorzeny in hopes that the former Waffen SS commander could give him advice on enhancing his personal security. But Skorzeny, operating on orders of the Mossad, shot dead the German scientist in a remote wooded area outside Munich. A Mossad team then poured acid on Krug’s body before burying it in a grave that had been dug in preparation for his killing. According to Raviv and Melman, Skorzeny also sent German scientists in Egypt a number of mail bombs designed by the Mossad, which killed a number of people. Raviv and Melman also state that they received oral confirmation from Rafi Eitan, a legendary Mossad operations officer, that he “met and ran Skorzeny” on behalf of the Israeli intelligence agency.

Skorzeny died of cancer in Spain in 1975. He was 67. It is believed that the Mossad never tried to kill or kidnap him.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 29 March 2016 | Permalink

Israel silent after assassination of key Hezbollah figure in Damascus

Samir Kuntar Israel has refused comment following the death of a senior official of Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, who was killed on Saturday in a missile strike in Syria. Samir Kuntar (also spelled Qantar) was a Druze who joined the Syrian-backed, Lebanese-based, Palestine Liberation Front (later Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command) at a young age. In 1979, Kuntar was jailed for an attack on an apartment block in Israel’s northern coastal town of Nahariya, which resulted in the death of four Israeli civilians and two of the attackers. However, he was freed after nearly three decades in prison in exchange for the bodies of two Israel Defense Force soldiers, who had been captured and executed by Hezbollah in 2006.

Since his high-profile release, Kuntar was believed to have risen in the ranks of Hezbollah, and to have become a major operational figure in the Lebanese militant group. In September of this year, the United States Department of State officially designated Kuntar a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. This designation, under US Executive Order 13224, denoted that Kuntar posed a significant and immediate terrorist threat to American interests. A statement issued by the US State Department at the time described Kuntar as one of Hezbollah’s “most visible and popular spokesmen”, and said he also had an operational role in the organization.

Kuntar was reportedly killed alongside eight other people when a barrage of missiles hit a residential building in the Damascus suburb of Jaramana. A statement by Hezbollah-controlled television station Al-Manar said four long-range missiles were fired by two “Israeli warplanes” that appeared to target the residential building. Based on footage aired by Al-Manar, the multi-story building appears completely destroyed. Moreover, at least one other Hezbollah senior commander, Farhan al-Shaalan, is said to have died in the strike.

Although Hezbollah officially accused “the Zionist entity” for the missile strikes, Israel has refused comment on Kuntar’s killing. When asked for a response by reporters on Sunday morning, Israeli Minister for Construction and Housing Yoav Gallant said he was happy that Kuntar was dead, but stopped short of confirming that Israel was behind the killing.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 December 2015 | Permalink

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